Multi media techniques are so often employed to prop up mediocre shows that it is only when used in a play of power and depth that their true potential becomes clear.
Audience participation in Fields of Grey begins before the show starts. We are escorted into the theatre in groups, encouraged to take meditative breaths and cleanse ourselves and seated in clear view of the performers. Throughout the show they debate our role – firing squad, witnesses or Gods. The tiered seating gives the game away- we are a jury.
We sit in judgement of an American soldier (Mtume Gant) and a resistance leader (Avaes Mohammad) resurrected in an arena surrounded by fields of grey. The audience hears their beliefs, rationalisations and finally the circumstances that lead them to their fate. The manner in which these things are communicated gives also aspects of the ongoing conflict in Iraq.
Gant and Mohammad also write the play but its success is not solely dependent on their talents. The eerie sound designs of Jason Singh and especially the remarkable visual designs of AlbinoMosquito create a convincing and at times frightening afterlife. Director Baba Israel sets, and maintains, a disconcerting atmosphere perfect for a play in which nothing is definite.
After the cacophony of noise and overlapping images that opens the play the audience is dragged into a place where the characters are tested as if in laboratory with force fields and electronic rays or tormented by hoards of creepy spiders. In a startlingly sequence the characters confront versions of themselves from before the conflict silently rising like ghosts.
Innovative presentation without context would, however, be a shallow experience. Fortunately, the script is both imaginative and ambitious. A staggering range of techniques is used but the strong central narrative ensures that these are not simply for effect but contributes to a powerful and moving conclusion. There are elements of satire with the characters making their cases to the audience using exactly the same words. At one point the conflict between the two boils down to them childishly shouting ‘ Me! Me! Me!’.
The performances do justice to the text with surprisingly authentic fight scenes and moments of deep passion. Gant lists the principles which soldiers observe including ‘ respect’ and later stays reverently silent for minutes while his enemy kneels in prayer. Besides, you have to admire the way they rationalise Mohammad’s somewhat out of place British accent.
Fields of Grey is a stunning example of what can be achieved by combining innovative presentation with excellent storytelling and acting.